West Michigan native Julie Lough has long been a technology pioneer, growing her business, Micro Visions, Inc., from interesting side hustle to a well-regarded company serving clients throughout West Michigan with comprehensive managed IT support.
Now, celebrating 30 years of business in October—Cybersecurity Awareness Month—Lough's still a rarity in a business sector where few women executives could be found.
She got her start by simply believing in herself.
In the late 1980s, Lough was completing her undergraduate degree in Computer Information Systems at Aquinas College while working at Herman Miller, where she served in various IT positions.
"They just threw all kinds of oddball systems at me and I had to figure out what to do with them and how to support them," said Lough. "Then, and now, I love learning new things."
Lough's co-worker at the time was selling newly popular personal computers, building applications and installing accounting systems after hours at local small businesses.
"I thought, 'You know, if he can do that, I can do that,'" said Lough, who began working nights, weekends and vacations in the burgeoning business, as word quickly spread. In the late '80s, personal computers were becoming affordable and being used in the home and in the workplace.
"There was a big demand for setting up those systems," Lough said, though it was challenging to find information about how to support and maintain them. She found herself transitioning from support technician to business owner.
In 1989, Lough filed the requisite paperwork, took out $5,000 in personal savings, bought a Blackship 286 personal computer and some business cards, and officially launched Micro Visions from the living room of her condominium. She continued to work her "day job" until she could no longer do both then took the entrepreneurial leap of faith. Eventually, she moved the business from her home into an office on Leonard Street, where it now occupies approximately 4,000 square feet.
The company's primary focus today, 30 years later, is providing managed services: IT strategic planning, network and system design and administration, help desk, monitoring, backup/disaster recovery, security solutions and more. Other services include mobile device management, cloud hosting and solutions, project management and implementation, and hardware/software procurement.
The use of technology brings with it the need to keep data accessible, recoverable and secure. Especially as larger companies tighten security, hackers increasingly target small and medium-sized businesses.
Unfortunately, Lough has seen clients that have been too reluctant when it comes to data security.
"Sometimes there's a mindset that, 'Oh, it's not going to happen to me. Why would somebody want my information?' Sometimes one must feel the pain before they do anything about it," she said. "Unfortunately, the attacks are becoming more sophisticated and frequent."
Lough sees her clients as true partners. Her approach to business reflects that emphasis. In addition to regular calls and a friendly monthly email, Lough invites her clients to biannual Brews & Bytes events. A recent gathering discussed tips and tricks for keeping one's data off the dark web. Lough cites these activities and touchpoints as valuable parts of her client relationships.
"You can't just wait for the phone to ring," she said. "It's all about being proactive—checking in. You have to be responsive, you have to have great technical support, but the relationship, understanding client goals and priorities, is really a big key."
Thanks to that client-centric approach and ethical practices, Lough and her business have been on the receiving end of numerous awards and nominations over the years, locally and statewide.
Community involvement is a priority for Lough. She recently participated in a Pilgrimage to Israel, which she says was life-changing. In May, she Walked for Water to raise funds for fresh water for those who may otherwise not have it. She's a regular packer for sack suppers with Kids' Food Basket. In late 2018, Micro Visions supported Purse Project 2018 as the designated drop-off site, resulting in more than 100 stuffed purses and handbags being brought to women through Guiding Light Missions and over 30 backpacks for men of Mel Trotter Ministries.
Lough was instrumental in serving and becoming a charter member of the Established Business Owners Division of GROW, including a few years on the steering committee to set standards and create dynamic educational events for a well-seeded group of entrepreneurs.
Julie's Top Four Cybersecurity Tips
1. Be smart about passwords.
- Don't use significant dates, family members' names or initials, or words easily associated with you. (Street of residence or your high school or college team mascot, for example, would not be recommended.)
- Don't reuse passwords among more than one site, even with minor changes. Instead, use long (more than 16 characters), randomly generated passwords, unique to each site or service you use.
- Use a password manager, like LastPass, to keep track of your passwords and make them easy to use.
- Use a long passphrase (like a quotation) of at least 12 to 16 characters, preferably more, to secure your password manager.
- Use multifactor authentication whenever possible.
2. Back up all your critical data daily. Keep multiple copies, including copies off-site.
3. Stay up to date with security updates for all your PCs, servers, and other devices—including mobile devices, network electronics, and other network-connected devices like security cameras and machine control units.
4. If you're a business owner, invest in security awareness training for you and your employees. Integrate this as part of an ongoing security program.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for West Michigan Woman.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Dykenhouse.